Next up in our celebrations for World Vegan Month, we take an exclusive look-around Neil Rankin's brand new burger bar on Brick Lane.
Simplicity Burger is championing a waste-not, want-not ethos and a simple aim: to serve no-bullshit burger patties made purely from British plants that may otherwise have gone in the bin. They ferment most veggies in house and aim for zero waste: think a plant-based vegan Big Mac, made purely from vegetables and wasting not a single bit.
Ready for a sneak peak behind the plant-based scenes? Keep watching to hear a little from Neil Rankin, chef and founder of Simplicity Burger, to talk more about his zero-waste ethos and how burgers can change the world.
Behind the scenes at Simplicity Burger
Talk us through your journey from Temper to now.
My journey from smokehouse onto Temper has always been about meat sustainability. It's something I've become quite passionate about, and I've always been interested in the vegan scene. When I opened Temper, we got protested about and I had quite a lot of interaction with the vegan community, and have become quite good friends with a lot of the vegan community as a result. After that, I started delving into it.
I saw that there was a lack of artisan vegan products on the market at the moment. A lot of the companies in London were using the Beyond Meat burger and other alternative meats like that. They're great, and there's nothing wrong with them, but obviously it's a processed product brought in from another country and I just didn't understand where that was coming from. I also felt there was a lack of burgers on the market that appealed to meat eaters, so it was kind of a challenge and I wanted to see whether I could actually do it. I didn't know when I first started whether I'd be able to pull it off or not. But early on, I realised that there were a number of ways that I could definitely get the flavour that people wanted. It was just all about getting the texture and the look and the feel.
How long did it take you to develop the recipe?
It took me about eight months, maybe more than that. But I was working on it flat-out.
If you had to describe Simplicity Burger in three words, how would you describe it?
Delicious, umami and sustainable.
Talk to us a little bit about the sustainable side of the burger and the business. You're zero waste and are trying to use wonky vegetables, is that right?
We're not completely zero-waste yet, just to make that completely clear, but we are trying to get there. The process of the burger is zero waste. We're buying in whole vegetables that are British made and British grown. We ferment them and then the liquid used from the fermentation gets used in other aspects, so we make a gravy from that fermentation liquid, and use some of the fermentation liquid for the next batch. All of the vegetables are used 100% – we just grind everything up. I've spent my whole life chopping bits off and disregarding bits, but unlike some people who would chop stuff away, we don't chop anything away. With the tomatoes, we ferment them and then use the juice to make the cheese, the skins to make the ketchup and then anything that's left over we dehydrate and use to make the salads.
It's just about what we can do with every last bit. That's what we're trying to do. The reason we've gone for burgers and not a more complicated menu is because the whole system works for itself. We're using potatoes and the potato flour that we make from the potatoes is used to bind the burgers. The starch from that is used to make the vegan cheese, as well. That's the sort of system that we're working within.
We can't imagine how much skill it must take to work out what to do with all the little bits and make sure none is wasted.
It is, and it does, but the thought process behind it, and the reason we called it Simplicity Burger, is because it's simple, and we're serving four simple, vegan, vegetable-based burgers here. But obviously there is a 'but' behind that, and in this case there's quite a complex network of things going on to try and make it zero-waste and also just utilise really good ingredients.
If we're moving towards a future that involves less meat, we need to make more of the vegetables we have
Why were you so keen to produce a product that was as close to zero waste as possible? What was your drive?
I found that a lot the vegan products on the market at the moment are not zero waste. There's a massive amount of waste caused by using isolates and things like that. If you take a pea or a potato and you extract the protein out of it, well, there's not much protein in a pea or a potato, so what's happening to the rest of it? If you mass market it on a big scale, what's happening to all of that? Is it getting utilised within that business or is it just being thrown away as waste?
There's a lot of waste in the vegetable farming industry anyway, what with ugly vegetables and things not being utilised to their fullest potential. There's also not a lot of land to produce it. If we're going to make a future that involves less meat, then we need to make more of the vegetables that we're using. Not everyone's going to do this, but it's a nice example to set and statement to make that we can do it. I hope that we influence other people to try their own either at home or for local businesses.
What would you order from your menu?
I would order the Big Double. It unashamedly looks like a Big Mac burger and tastes like a Big Mac, too. It's my favourite burger and I've spent a lifetime of eating them, so it's nice to have an option that's as delicious (if not more delicious) but also low in cholesterol. So you can drink more wine, obviously.
And I hear you're serving vegan cocktails downstairs?
Yep, we've got a little bar that's serving totally plant-based cocktails. We're utilising some of the liquids from the ferments. There's a real symbiosis between the kitchen and cocktail bar downstairs: they use all the citrus fruits and we make a cola out of the leftovers from that. It's nice to have. It's also perfect for a slower (nine or ten) drinks after eating your food. Or before! That works not only in a waste-free symbiosis, but also so that a customer gets to stay for longer and enjoy more of the atmosphere.
For more information about Neil and his burgers, head to simplicityburger.london